Today, we tend to think of holidays or vacations as time to recharge our batteries to go back to work.
G. K. Chesterton couldn’t disagree more. He despised the sort of mindset which reduced even holidays to a resource for employers to use. Holidays matter, Chesterton argues, not so we can work more efficiently, but because we were made for holiness and an Eternal Rest.
But it’s Chesterton so I’ll let him explain… (*everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief*)
The War on Holidays
The special emblematic Employer of to-day, especially the Model Employer (who is the worst sort) has in his starved and evil heart a sincere hatred of holidays.
I do not mean that he necessarily wants all his workmen to work until they drop; that only occurs when he happens to be stupid as well as wicked… But humane and reasonable hours for labour have nothing whatever to do with the idea of holidays.
If the modern employer came to the conclusion, for some reason or other, that he could get most out of his men by working them hard for only two hours a day, his whole mental attitude would still be foreign and hostile to holidays. For his whole mental attitude is that the passive time and the active time are alike useful for him and his business. All is, indeed, grist that comes to his mill, including the millers.
His slaves still serve him in unconsciousness, as dogs still hunt in slumber. His grist is ground not only by the sounding wheels of iron, but by the soundless wheel of blood and brain. His sacks are still filling silently when the doors are shut on the streets and the sound of the grinding is low.
The Great Holiday
Now a holiday has no connection with using a man either by beating or feeding him. When you give a man a holiday you give him back his body and soul. It is quite possible you may be doing him an injury (though he seldom thinks so), but that does not affect the question for those to whom a holiday is holy.
Immortality is the great holiday; and a holiday, like the immortality in the old theologies, is a double-edged privilege. But wherever it is genuine it is simply the restoration and completion of the man. If people ever looked at the printed word under their eye, the word “recreation” would be like the word “resurrection,” the blast of a trumpet.
A man, being merely useful, is necessarily incomplete, especially if he be a modern man and means by being useful being “utilitarian.” A man going into a modern club gives up his hat; a man going into a modern factory gives up his head. He then goes in and works loyally for the old firm to build up the great fabric of commerce (which can be done without a head), but when he has done work he goes to the cloak-room, like the man at the club, and gets his head back again; that is the germ of the holiday…
The Supreme Adventure
All the words dedicated to places of eating and drinking are pure and poetic words. Even the word “hotel” is the word hospital… But a word yet weaker than “hotel” illustrates the same point–the word “restaurant.” There again you have the admission that there is a definite building or statue to “restore”; that ineffaceable image of man that some call the image of God. And that is the holiday; it is the restaurant or restoring thing that, by a blast of magic, turns a man into himself.
This complete and reconstructed man is the nightmare of the modern capitalist. His whole scheme would crack across like a mirror of Shallot, if once a plain man were ready for his two plain duties — ready to live and ready to die.
And that horror of holidays which marks the modern capitalist is very largely a horror of the vision of a whole human being: something that is not a “hand” or a “head for figutes.” But an awful creature who has met himself in the wilderness. The employers will give time to eat, time to sleep; they are in terror of a time to think.
You can read Chesterton’s essay on holidays and plenty of others in Utopia of Usurers and Other Essays (free on Amazon Kindle). If you’re interested in what Chesterton thought was the solution to the war on holidays, check out Beyond Capitalism & Socialism: A New Statement of an Old Ideal.
Did you enjoy this mega-quote with all its Chestertonian goodness? I’d love for you to share it!
Share on facebook, link on google+, tweet it, pin it or put it in a song.
[shareaholic app=”share_buttons” id=”5302388″]